by Brian C. Rittmeyer
James Garvin wants to be remembered as a man who kept his word. A 28-year-old computer engineering student at the University of Texas, Garvin, an aspiring video game developer, could pour his time and effort into up-and-coming platforms like Sega's Dreamcast, hoping to strike gold with a big game. But he's not letting his dreams take his attention away from unfinished business for the Atari Jaguar -- namely, two action role playing games, The Assassin and Age of Darkness. Garvin, who runs OMC Games from his Austin, Texas apartment, hopes to release both games to Jaguar fans sometime next year, The Assassin in either March or April and Age of Darkness later in 2000. "The only reason I'm doing it at this point is I said I was going to do it," Garvin said. "That's the only reason."
An Atari loyalist since his teenage years, Garvin has a long history with Atari computers and game consoles, starting with a 2600 Video Computer System and his first computer, an Atari 800. He began programming BASIC games on an 800 XL in 1983 and quickly moved to working in assembly programming language to produce better games. In fact, The Assassin had its birth as an 8-bit Atari computer game. He decided to turn it into a Jaguar game after traveling to Japan, where he spent a year studying at Tohoku University, and realizing his 8-bit development equipment wouldn't work there.
Garvin proposed his game to Atari, but received less than a warm welcome, or even a polite brush-off.. It wasn't until after Atari merged with JTS Corp. that Garvin was designated an official developer and given Jaguar development materials. The treatment he received from the Atari brass colored his memories of the company he had loved as a child. He described their attitude as akin to "New York rudeness." "I had a game that I thought at the time would definitely boost sales, but they're not the nicest guys to deal with," he said. "All the computers I ever owned were Atari. I thought they were the best. But when you get around to talking to the guys they treat you like dirt. It ruined my whole opinion of the company at that point. "I think the Jaguar is good hardware, and I still use an Atari 800 XL, but I don't have much respect for the company."
During a lull in his programming, Garvin turned his attention to magazine publishing and started HieroGraphix Game Journal, a magazine covering consoles from the '70s, '80s and '90s. In part because he didn't take advertising for it, it didn't work as a regular magazine and is now only published periodically. When printed, the runs can be as little as 500 and as much as 3,000 copies, depending on how many Garvin thinks will sell. Now that he's back in the states, Garvin hopes to step up development of his two Jaguar titles. The basic engine for The Assasin is running and the game is about 30 percent complete. Garvin said his admittedly limited art abilities have cut down on the number of game screenshots available for review, but he hopes the addition of an artist to his team will change that soon. The OMC Games Web site, which also includes an online version of HieroGraphix, can be found at www.omcgames.com.
While he didn't have any big announcements in late August, Garvin said he hopes to have a demo of Assassin released in late September that can be played with a Jaguar development kit or a BJL Jaguar. "There will be enough to know what's going on, how it looks on the screen and how it will play," he said. "It will give a taste of what's to come." While "The Assassin" is an action RPG, Garvin said it's going to be different in that will be more like a computer game with text that will require memorization, taking notes and becoming something of a detective. "It's not easy," he warned. "It's going to be fairly hard but entertaining all at the same time. It's something different."
What will set the larger Age of Darkness apart will be its medievil setting and, instead of just gunplay, will include hand-to-hand fighting and combat with swords, axes and knives. Resolving programming issues related to all that fighting is why the game engine shared by both games are being developed on The Assassin first, Garvin said. "The engine has to be good," he said. "We have to perfect it." Both games will be CD-based instead of cartridge because of their sheer size. Garvin isn't worried that releasing the game on CD instead of cartridge will cut back too much on those able to play it. Although it's likely there are some Jaguar users without the cat's CD add-on, Garvin is counting on the idea that the hard-core gamers who will want his games will have the CD unit. Garvin plans to market his games directly over the Internet and through dealers still offering Jaguar titles. He's also hoping that encryption won't be an issue when he gets around to finishing his games. While a bypass has recently been found for cartridge-based games, allowing Carl Forhan of Songbird Productions to release Skyhammer, there isn't a solution for CD-based games. Jayson Hill of Hasbro Interactive, which owns Atari, said the company is still attempting to locate the encryption codes. "I'm hoping it will be resolved by the time I need it," Garvin said. "Call it optimism or whatever. I think it will be pretty much worked out by then."
While Garvin is hoping to take his game development on to the next generation of consoles, such as the Dreamcast or Sony's Playstation 2, he won't rule out more Jaguar projects. "I could do something else with the Jaguar," he said. "It depends on how the first two games are received. If they do pretty well, not necessarily financially, but if people like them, maybe we'll do some more."
With six or seven people working with him, Garvin isn't sure how far OMC Games will go, or where its future lies, or even if it has one. But what he's certain won't happen is that it won't become a big corporation -- not because he wouldn't want to hit it big, but because he doesn't want to give up control. And there's a few reasons for his feelings on that -- he wants final say on everything, he doesn't want to lose his ideas or even the company to a takeover and he detests sequels. "It's not going to be my bread and butter," he said. "That doesn't mean that can't change. All it takes is one big game."
But for now, Garvin is working on making real what he had already promised to the Jaguar community, which now, more than ever, has high hopes for new games. "Regardless of what's going on, I said I'd do it and I'm going to keep my word," he said. "One way or another, it will be released."